Animal Lovers' Blog

The Smaller Majority

During the last few days I was supposed to be a member of a team of photographers and scientists, whose job was to document the biodiversity of animals and plants of the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. This event, organized and sponsored by the National Park Service and National Geographic Society, aims to bring together scientists, naturalists, students, and all people interested in nature, to create a snapshot of the incredible diversity of life of a single place, and further the understanding of the role of national parks and other protected areas in its preservation. I had been looking forward to my participation in this event, and meeting some of the most accomplished photographers in the country, including teams from the Meet Your Neighbours project and the International League of Conservation Photographers. Alas, a string of unforeseen events forced me to cancel my travel plans at the…

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The Smaller Majority

On most nights I like to turn the porch light on, just to see what insects are flying in the neighborhood. Last night I stepped outside to check the light, and was instantly hit by a huge insect that bounced off my head and landed on the ground. To my surprise and delight it turned out to be a giant praying mantis. And not just any praying mantis – this was the largest praying mantis to be found in our neck of the woods, and it was also the second species of these remarkable insects to visit my garden this year.

All my life I have been dreaming of living in a place where winters are mild and mantids are plentiful. Although I cannot say that I have completely fulfilled my dream (winters in Boston are two orders of magnitude worse than in my native Poland), praying mantids are quite…

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The Smaller Majority

Yesterday I introduced the amazing lantern bugs and their fast-flying honeydew. I mentioned that ants, animals that often collect honeydew from homopteran insects, were unable to enjoy it because of the speed with which the honeydew drops were expelled. And yet, when Kenji and I started investigating the behavior of lantern bugs in a systematic fashion we quickly discovered that ants had found a way of tapping into this source of food after all, and they weren’t very nice about it.

As we cataloged various kinds of insects that were coming to catch a few sweet drops from the lantern bugs, often we would see large, light colored snails near these insects. But surely these snails couldn’t have anything to do with the bugs, right? We decided to look into this strange observation in more detail, and what we found was quite surprising. First of all, the snail, Euglandina…

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The Smaller Majority

The island of Madagascar, an ancient chunk of the Indian subcontinent that somehow ended up very close to Africa’s eastern shores, has always been a magnet for biologists. And not surprisingly so: the place is bursting with ancient and endemic lineages, and in some groups of organisms 100% of their species can be found nowhere else. Lemurs usually get the most attention, but other animal groups are equally deserving gasps of wonder, and none more so than the mind-blowing Leaf tailed geckos (Uroplatus.)

When I first held the Giant Leaf tailed gecko (U. fimbriatus) in my hand after catching it in the rainforest of northern Madagascar, it felt as if I were holding a living, breathing beanie baby. It was the size of small puppy, and its skin was velvet-soft and warm. The gecko’s hands grasped my fingers the way a newborn holds its parent’s finger…

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